Photo: Sinking your teeth into the topic of toxins

(Credit: fMoya via Flickr)

By Dan Kingsbury

Dan Kingsbury is a retired dentist in Roberts Creek, B.C., and a sustainable life and business coach. He is passionate about engaging youth in building healthy environments. He works with YesBC (Youth for Environmental Stewardship) and is the architect of the Jellyfish Project, a youth environmental stewardship initiative that offers sustainability learning resources for Grades 4 to 7, free high school sustainability shows with Mindil Beach Markets band, and "Urgency Concerts" to help non-profits fundraise. He also volunteers as a Suzuki Elder. Docs Talk asked Dr. Kingsbury to share a dentist's perspective on the problem of toxic chemicals in consumer products and how this relates to the larger sustainability challenge.

Docs Talk: What got you interested in the problem of toxic chemicals in consumer products?

Dr. Kingsbury: I have long been an advocate for the environment, but I had an aha moment while attending a dental conference seminar on toxicology. A speaker mentioned, in passing, that even Colgate toothpaste has toxic chemicals. That got my attention.

On reading the small print about Colgate's "advanced protection", I found, "12 hour Antibacterial Protection — Triclosan 0.3%." I then looked up triclosan and found that it is a skin-permeable antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral that is suspected to interfere with hormone function (endocrine disruptor) and can irritate skin and eyes. Triclosan is also toxic to the aquatic environment where it remains for a long time, often forming chlorophenols, polychlorinated furans and dioxins that bioaccumulate and become both carcinogenic and toxic.

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And it's not just in toothpaste. Triclosan is found in a wide range of home products, including garbage bags, toys and soothers, linens, mattresses, toilet fixtures, clothing, furniture fabric, paints, laundry detergents, mouthwashes, deodorant, facial tissues and cosmetics. The small amounts found in each product add up, particularly since the chemical doesn't degrade.

Docs Talk: Environment Canada has said that triclosan should be listed as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, but the government is not proposing any regulations to get it out of consumer products. What's your take on that?

Dr. Kingsbury: The Canadian Medical Association has called for a ban on antibacterial consumer products that may also contribute to antibiotic resistance, and the American Medical Association recommends avoiding triclosan entirely.

Triclosan is one of many toxic ingredients in the products we use on our bodies and in our homes. It turns out that there are 10,500 industrial chemicals used as cosmetic ingredients alone. Add to this information that women use an average of 12 and men an average of six personal-care products and you get an idea of how pervasive toxic chemicals are in our lives.

Docs Talk: What are your thoughts on how dentists can be part of the solution?

Dan Kingsbury

Dr. Kingsbury: As dental health practitioners we know the value of medical histories and the importance of understanding the overall health of our patients before focusing on the mouth. Every time we do a patient examination we are looking right past all those personal-care products that our patients are using, dozens of toxic chemicals. We look right past what they are wearing and eating. A recent study found more than 200 pollutants in the umbilical-cord blood of infants. Among them are pesticides, perfluorinated compounds, antibiotics and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. We don't know much about the industrial ingredients that are being put into our bodies or how they accumulate to affect our overall health.

There is a need for deep transformation in our way of seeing, from how we assume we know health, from how we assume that our manufacturers would never do anything to harm our health, to how we are connected to the toxins in our environment. What is going on in our bodies is surely going on in our environment, and vice versa.

Docs Talk: What advice do you have for individual tooth-brushing Canadians?

Dr. Kingsbury: Brushing and flossing your teeth will keep them healthy. You should also be aware that manufacturers add ingredients to products like toothpaste that are unnecessary, toxic, carcinogenic and known to be environmentally damaging. Eighty per cent of the personal-care products considered in the David Suzuki Foundation's 2011 survey contained at least one ingredient in this category! It is critical that you read labels on toothpaste, deodorants, cosmetics and household cleansers carefully to see if they contain toxic and carcinogenic ingredients and those known to be persistent and detrimental to our environment. If you are brushing with toothpaste that contains toxins, imagine what that's doing to your body and imagine what it's doing to the environment when it goes down the drain.

It is up to you to take responsibility for what you ingest, the products you use on your body and the products you use in your household. You can send a message with your consumer choices that you prefer a healthier planet. After all, whether or not you brush regularly, you will never know overall good health while this planet is in peril. Dental health is important, but this is a priority for survival.

June 26, 2012

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